November 11, 2020

How agile leaders can power sustainable organizational agility

As agile leaders, setting a good example at the top inspires others to drive the organization forward


Agility may be a popular management buzzword these days, but it’s a concept that has always had relevance in business and in our personal lives. The massive disruption that has affected the economy and business this year has shown us how important it is to be agile if we want to move forward.


Today, while some businesses have regained momentum, business as usual no longer exists. Many businesses have had to adjust in different ways to cope with new and different challenges. While it is great that everything is starting to get better, we still won’t know what’s going to come in the future. 


In this sense, we have to be prepared for more disruptions. Businesses are driven by the power of people, and this means that everything begins with their leaders.


Why do we begin with business leaders?


At the end of the day, hierarchy still plays an important part in driving business decisions. While many newer businesses and startups have a flatter organizational structure than their older peers, some traditions persist and one of those is a hierarchy.


Driving organizational agility requires the basic foundations of leadership agility.


There are four key characteristics to build on leadership agility to inspire organizational agility.




While personal resilience is the priority, agile leaders also have to consider the overall resilience of their teams and inspire people in the organization to develop this characteristic.


Change will always be a part of every business, though the pace can vary from slow and gradual to dizzyingly fast in some industries. But no matter what, when change happens, it can sometimes create harsh conditions for businesses and their people. This is why resilience is another buzzword you’ve been hearing a lot this year.


Goals and direction setting


Change can drive businesses to temporarily – or sometimes permanently – let go of their long-term goals. This shifts all resources toward quick wins. However, we cannot rely on quick wins alone during tough times.


Quick wins, though an important part of the bigger picture, give us an illusion that our business is doing well. In reality, quick wins may not be sustainable in the long run. Long-term goals give businesses the bigger picture. On the other hand, short-term goals act as milestones that tell the organization it’s going in the right direction.


For example, focusing on quick sales alone isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, if there’s no bigger picture, the business lacks direction. There will be many potential and loyal customers that aren’t cared for if we focus on immediate returns.


Balanced levels of adaptability and flexibility


While the latter is certainly important during times of change, making a move every time change happens isn’t sustainable. Long-term strategies, as previously mentioned, still play an important part in driving the business forward. 


Rigidity is an innate quality of many humans. However, striking a balance between rigidity and flexibility is an important part of sustaining business growth. While agility forces us to become more flexible, it is also about sustaining the business to ensure longevity. This ultimately means making firm decisions and following through with certain plans.


Empathize and empower the people in their organization, as they do with external customers


It is normal for agile leaders and others in the organization to focus their efforts on their customers. But you need to make sure that people within the organization don’t lose focus on what drives organizations forward in the first place: collaboration.


We cannot achieve greater things on our own, much less achieve agility as a whole organization. After all, the heart of a business is its people. Understanding internal needs is just as important as understanding the needs of the customers. It engages people and empowers them to work toward shared business goals.


While all these characteristics apply to individuals, organizational agility almost always begins with agile leaders. They need to serve as positive role models to their people and empower their people. This is towards making changes within themselves to drive improvement at work and in their own lives.


Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC – Southeast Asia’s Lifelong Learning Center. She can be reached by email at or Explore and experience our lifelong learning ecosystem today at